Thursday, July 24, 2014

Processing BLC14: Building Learning Communities Conference

Bordelon, Kahn, Simpson and Valence visit Boston Museum of Fine Arts before the conference begins
In April, we found out that our team of five won a Fund for Teachers grant that would send us to November Learning's Building Learning Communities Conference in Boston in July. Well, I am just back from the conference. I attended this conference three years ago with one teacher from PFTSTA, but it was even more exciting to attend with a team of teachers and the principal, Jaime Zapico. Only the teachers were able to apply for the grant but having our principal with us meant that we could make some solid plans for the 2014-15 school year. 

Each day began with a continental breakfast where we could network with other educators attending the conference. I would find a table with empty chairs that had several people in an active discussion. I really found it to be an invigorating way to start the day. One of the teachers I met at breakfast was an English teacher who explained that she records all comments orally on the papers that she grades. She does no written comments. She uses server space provided by the district to house her audio comments. We have a subscription to Turnitin.com. When a teacher is in Grademark, they can record comments on a written assignment. This is a technique that Cheryl Bordelon plans to use in her English classes this fall. 

At 8:30 the whole team headed to the ballroom for each day's keynote speech. The best presentation was by Alec Couros. If you are not familiar with this university professor from Canada, you need to follow him on twitter and check out all the resources that he shares. He is teaching future teachers how to use edtech in the classroom to further student learning. Here is his link on digital storytelling. Telling stories and sharing our lives is how we can learn as students and as adults. What we share online will always be there. Be mindful of the stories that you share. I found a link to this sad story on Alec's blog and had not seen it before--check it out here. He also talked about using a number of Chrome extensions to improve your browser experience. I just tried to download One Tab and couldn't. I will have to work on that one. 

One of the keynote sessions, was a set of Ted-like talks with four presenters. Shannon Miller, librarian from Van Meter, IA and one of the four, is always inspiring. I first met her at BLC in 2011, and I have been following her ever since. She mentioned that she had ditched Dewey in her library, and yes, I know that it is a now thing to do, I just can't bring myself to rearrange a library that to me, works. Her talk was about student voice, and the importance for educators to let the students use whatever voice they might have even when it might not fit into our lesson plan. Someone new to me was Darren Kuropatwa. He is a district curriculum coordinator in Winnipeg, Canada. I was so impressed with his message that I attended three of his sessions as well as his keynote. He has a similar take on educational technology that Couros has. Using technology appropriately can be a way to enhance student learning. Isn't that what it is all about--getting our students motivated to learn?

During this conference, I wasn't so focused on new tech tools or using new tech tools but more on the pedagogy. Why do we need to provide these tech experiences for our students? This is sort of a rhetorical question, but if we are to prepare our students for college and careers, then we need to provide them with a myriad of tech experiences that allow them to communicate in lots of different ways, to be creative, collaborate and think critically. This is certainly not new to me, but I like being reminded and being given suggestions on how to make this happen in the classroom. 

Lunch time meeting on the last day of conference
A lunch time meeting was scheduled each day for our team. We wanted to debrief and make plans for the coming school year. The first day it was hard to focus, and we spent some time discussing philosophy, but by the third day, we had a new teacher orientation ready to go and ideas to get all the teachers collaborating and sharing. I found this to be a major theme of the whole conference. When teachers collaborate within the building and across the globe, the students benefit. Yes, it can be hard at times, but it is truly necessary for us to model good collaboration for our students and allow them to learn from many. 

Working on iPad or napkin, whatever it takes to get the job done

Besides the daily keynote speeches, I attended three other sessions a day. Some I attended with my colleagues, others alone. No matter who was presenting I always got some little tidbit as a take away. Most of the attendees at the session on copyright were librarians like me. I really liked this presentation because Kristin Hokanson and Teryl Magee explained that copyrighted work can be used by students if done correctly. You can find a link to their resources here. Amy Burvall is all about letting students be creative. Her presentation was beautiful, so she definitely practices what she preaches. Open here to see the slide presentation that I got to see. One of my favorite sessions was the last session of the day on Thursday when I walked into Darren Kuropatwa's iPad scavenger hunt. All of the 75 attendees at this session were expected to join a group, use their device and play along. It was fun because it was hands on. We got to meet new people and were expected to collaborate with them to complete the scavenger hunt. It proved to be extremely engaging, and I imagine kids would be as taken with it as me. Kelly Maher, who works with our 6th graders first semester, plans to redesign this activity for her classes to complete. 

We also got some time to actually see a little bit of Boston: North End, Cambridge and Copley Square.

walking the cobblestone streets of the North End near Paul Revere's house


photo of all the BLC attendees 

Attending BLC was a wonderful opportunity for all of us. I believe that our students will be reaping the benefits of our attendance for years to come. It would not have been possible without the grant from Fund for Teachers. Fund for Teachers provides grants to educators singly or in teams for summer professional development. The cool thing is that you can create your own PD and travel the world or attend a conference like our team. Thank you FFT for helping us strive to be better educators. 

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